Why is a ‘clean’ wine generating controversy?
UNDER THE INFLUENCEAlma Rosa 2016 El Jabali Chardonnay“Any organic wine that I have ever tried just lacks flavor and it just doesn’t taste good,” says Avaline co–founder Katherine Power on the brand’s Instagram in a post that has received 1.3 million views. Well, aside from Domaine de la Romanée Conti, perhaps the world’s most sought after wine that’s sourced from not just organically grown, but biodynamic vineyards, there are many delicious organic wines made just up the road from Los Angeles that, uh, don’t lack flavor. Might I suggest this wine from the organically grown vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills AVA?
Let me start by saying I like Cameron Diaz as an actress.
Her campy stints in The “Charlie’s Angels” flicks, her audio role as Princess Fiona in the “Shrek” films and her dirty dancing in the Chinese restaurant in “The Sweetest Thing” have all made me smile. Though we have not seen her on the big screen since 2014 (“Annie”), she did video-convene with her bestie, Gwyneth Paltrow, for an “In Goop Health” online session this month.
She wants us all to know that she is well in her new life as a wife, mum and, yes, wine entrepreneur. Not surprisingly, the discussion centered on her recently developed wine label Avaline (Ah-vah-leene).
Diaz, in association with fashionista Katherine Power, created the new wine brand and launched it in July with an aggressive social media campaign that positioned Avaline as a “clean” wine. The pair also stated they are on a mission to “create transparency” in the wine world, an industry that, as of yet, is not called upon by the FDA to list all the ingredients in a bottle on its label, as is the case with the food industry. Pretty ambitious.
Celebrity-made wines are not new. Brad and Angelina, Jon Bon Jovi per et fils, Trudy Styler and Sting are just a few of those who lead the lifestyle of the rich and famous and have also found their way to the world of wine. And some are actually tasty. But it was the “clean” claims of Diaz and Power that sent the wine media into a frenzy.
The two Avaline wines, a rosé from Provence and a white blend from the Penedes region of Spain (available on wine.com for $19.99 each or $24 in retail stores), quickly received a number of harsh reviews. Not for the wines themselves, mind you, but rather for the insinuations that have been made and the use of marketing buzzwords that create confusion among consumers.
We live in an age where brand often supersedes product. Where things (both products and people) are not judged by the content of their character, but by the words that have been coined or co-opted to describe them. “Clean” and “transparent” are two words that resonate with consumers today. Especially those of a certain age, and that age would be millennials. What more perfect words could there be to market a wine to a new generation of consumers who like to be told that what they are drinking is pure and accountable?
The late night host Stephen Colbert (yes this is the “celebrity column”) is credited with crafting the word “truthiness” to describe a claim that may seem to be true but rather is something that the speaker would “like” to be true. If it sounds true, well then …
In wine, definitive definitions can often be hard to come by.
The “natural wine” movement has been on the rise for the past couple of decades and is currently grappling with the issue of how to define itself. These are wines from serious producers grown in vineyards that meet strict organic or biodynamic standards, who are non-interventionist in their techniques and who eschew alteration, chemicals or unnecessary biproducts in their wines.
In other words, they have invested their hearts and souls into making wines that reflect not just a marketing slogan, but a passion for producing a living thing from the earth to give pleasure in the purest way they know how. That’s not what Avaline is. To their credit, the grapes used in Avaline are certified organic by accepted bodies in both France and Spain.
This spring, the French government created a legal definition under the moniker vin méthode nature to help give some structure to the natural wine movement. To provide something other than “truthiness” to the process. But there is no such thing as a “clean” wine. And there is a certain cynicism attached to hopping into the wine game, using buzzwords and purchasing a product from an unnamed vineyard made by an unnamed company, and then lecturing the industry on their practices. But I wish them well on their endeavor. No doubt it will be a success.
Oh, and about that name. The pair told InStyle magazine that they used a baby-naming site to help come up with the “perfect ‘strong but feminine’ name.” “There are literally hundreds of thousands of wines out there, so all the names were taken,” Power told the lifestyle magazine.
Ah, the challenges of an artisan winemaker.
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